I've been a fan of Depeche Mode ever since I heard their first single, "Dreaming of Me", on a K-Tel compilation from 1982 called The Beat. The original band line-up included Vince Clarke (Yazoo, The Assembly, Erasure) who exited the band after their 1981 debut album (Speak and Spell). After the three remaining members (Martin Gore, Dave Gahan, Andrew Fletcher) released their 1982 follow-up (A Broken Frame), they decided they needed a fourth member. Enter Alan Wilder, who joined the band by responding to a cryptic ad in Melody Maker that read: "Name Band, Synthesizer, Must be under 21". His first appearance on a Depeche Mode recording was with their 1983 single, "Get the Balance Right!" and its b-side "The Great Outdoors!" (which included co-writing credits for Alan). It was clear to my ears that the Depeche Mode sound, starting with this single, introduced new and innovative electronic sound techniques into the mix. The band's sound was evolving to something more sophisticated. I've always considered Alan Wilder to be the electronic genius responsible for Depeche Mode's trademark electro-pop sound and identity, from "Get the Balance Right!" until his exit from the band and their 1993 album Songs of Faith and Devotion.
In 1986, Alan was the first Depeche Mode member to release his own material as a side project. As Recoil, he released his experimental two-track EP (1+2), which presented a unique arrangement of electronic sounds and samples across two sides of vinyl. This was followed by the 1987 release of Hydrology, an album that I consider one of Alan's most impressive releases to this day. It was at this point that I first stumbled upon Recoil. I can still remember buying the import compilation cassette of Hydrology plus 1+2 (C STUMM 51) at Eide's Comics and Records in Pittsburgh. The artwork caught my eye - it was stocked along with the Depeche Mode releases. I had no idea what it sounded like (this was 1988 - with no preview of music or Spotify). I took a chance, bought it, and immediately fell in love with Hydrology, and went about dissecting 1+2 ... which, BTW, is the best "where's that sample from?" musical quiz that any hardcore Depeche Mode fan could dream of.
Fast forward to 1992, and the release of Bloodline - Recoil's first commercial-oriented album and the first to feature vocals. It's interesting to put this album in perspective within the Depeche Mode timeline. Bloodline was recorded from January-March 1991 and mixed later that year, placing it between Depeche Mode's Violator (1990) and Songs of Faith and Devotion (1993). The album was produced by Alan, engineered by Steve Lyon, and assisted by Dave Eringa. I really enjoyed listening to the album at its original release. But as I listen to the album today, I really think it sounds even better than I remember it back in 1992. Perhaps it was slightly ahead of its time? Listening to the album now, it's even more obvious to me how prevalent some elements of the late-80's/early-90's Depeche Mode sound (the Alan Wilder influence) are present across the album.
The album's opening track and first official single, "Faith Healer" (a cover of an Alex Harvey glam rock song), marks a radical departure from the prior Recoil sound, with vocals by Nitzer Ebb's Douglas McCarthy. The track is upbeat with guitars and drums over an electronic base. "Electro Blues for Bukka White" is my favorite track on the album and a clear standout with thick, lush layers of synth that are so reminiscent of the Depeche Mode sound of the time. The track samples a 1937 recording of Delta Blues guitarist/singer Bukka White's "Shake 'em on down." "The Defector" is an electronic masterpiece that is clearly an homage to the Kraftwerk sound, and supposedly incorporates samples of Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs. "Curse" features vocals/rap by Moby (under the name R. Hall) that transitions to a pulsing electronic number by the time the track ends. Both "Bloodline" and "Edge to Life" feature the edgy, sensual vocals of Toni Halliday (Curve). The album's stunning closing track, "Freeze", sounds like something that would have been a perfect addition to 1987's Hydrology, with its predominantly ambient, electronic sound.
A few interesting side notes about Bloodline:
I've read a few articles that indicate that Moby might have been influenced by the track "Electro Blues for Bukka White", where Alan introduced the idea of sampling Bukka's vocals over a pulsing, electronic backdrop - a good seven years before Moby released his 1999 chart-topping album Play, which utilized the same concept.
If you listen carefully, you can hear a heavily-processed Diamanda Galas reciting The Lord's Prayer in the link passage between "Curse" and "Bloodline".
If you pay attention to album artwork like I do, you'll notice a "5+6" on the Bloodline album artwork. This continues the "side" numbering that started with Recoil's first release: 1+2. If you take a close look at the Hydrology album artwork, you'll notice an embossed 3 and 4 on each side of the album sleeve. I'm not sure if the numbering references continued on later Recoil releases.
Take a few steps back in time and check out the official music video for Bloodline's first official single, "Faith Healer":
RECOIL "FAITH HEALER" (Official Music Video)